Who killed the joy of parenting?
Would anyone want to become a parent if they read all the advice out there?
Is it the poisonous additives in the food? Is it the soaring incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? Is it the dangers associated with car seats and transporting young children in motor vehicles? The explosion of the numbers of children with Attentions Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

What about HIV/AIDS and Bird Flu and Swine Flu and SARS and the return of Cholera?

Could it be the explosion of child molestation and sex and inappropriate TV? What about gaming consules and SMS addiction and cyber-addiction more generally?

Then there are the parties and teenage drinking and drug pushers in the schools and the danger of guns in the homes of their friends. And don’t forget the explosion of criminality in general and rape in particular.

Parents have always had to contend with the world. Wars, famine, prowling predators and deadly childhood illness have long been the real and present danger in the minds of the human parent.

The difference with our modern life is NOT that the dangers are greater. They are different and by-and-large not nearly as deadly as they have been for much of human history.

The difference today is that in modern capitalism fear sells.

The voice wheedling in our ear, or screaming at us says: “Buy this car seat if you care about your child! It’s only R1200. What price do you put on his delicate eggshell head? Buy it now! Or carry the guilt forever.”

The denizens of our modern capitalist economy constantly ask us whether we REALLY care about our children. In this argument no product has to actually prove its worth. The car seat, the cot, the private education, the special bike helmet, the expensive childhood vitamins and anti-viral snake oils, the burglar bars, the childproofing, the cram colleges – they just have to assert: this MIGHT help. Therefore if you refuse to buy the product you don’t care about the life and happiness of your child. What kind of person are you?

Can you imagine a customer more vulnerable to manipulation than a parent? Everything about our evolution causes us to fear for our children – their safety and their advantage in the world.

So the pedlars of products with dubious value to the safety and success of bearing and raising children are one category of person I blame for having damaged the joy I still feel – despite them - at being a father.

But there is a category of person and thing that irritates me even more. The people who make a living dispensing childrearing advice, the books they write and the temporary dogmatic movements that flower around them. Now I must be careful here. There are countless wonderful parents and supporters of parents who have written books that gently assist us through the minefield; and I thank them and value them.

But there is another category of “expert” that is in my sights. This is the “expert” who has turned being a bully into a profession – and they seem able to recruit whole bands of acolytes and neophytes who become the soldiers in their temporary cause.

Whether babies sleep on their backs or on their sides becomes the cause in a new kind of holy war. Do we leave the baby to cry or do we always pick it up when it is weepy? Feeding on demand or structured feeding times? Dairy and wheat in the child’s diet? Innoculations? Stimulation or quiet? These seem to be issues at which people sneer at each, and frankly, would stone each other if they could get away with it.

It is impossible not to notice that things that were certain at one time, that everybody agreed upon, are suddenly pooh-poohed: certainty about putting the baby on his or her back becomes a big forbidden and a leading cause of SIDS; widely encouraged infant formula becomes a no-no and breast feeding is suddenly always best; beating the child, hugely approved of in – at least - the Christian bible (Proverbs 13:24) now becomes, in most circumstances, an offence punishable under the law.

At the heart of my gripe is that there is not a whole lot of difference between the new ‘must have’ safety or educational toy/product/nutrition and the new childrearing expert and methodology. They are both items being sold on the market; and they are both using and manipulating parental fear and guilt as central to their sales pitch.
So do me if a favour: if you are pronouncing on the techniques, styles and appropriate paraphernalia of the job of child rearing, don’t be so sure of yourself! Don’t come across like you have the divinely inspired truth at your fingertips, in your mouth or in your book. We have all got to eat, but to play on our guilt, our hopes and our fears for our children crosses the line between marketing and scaremongering.

There are enough real and commonsense things to worry about in this world. We don’t need trumped up “experts” inventing new syndromes and terrors to part us with our hard-earned money – and as a side effect, diminish the joy of having and raising children.

Does too much information kill the joy of being a parent?

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